Florida sheriff, school board revise plan to access student data amid investigation

System designated certain students as ‘at risk’

NEW PORT RICHEY, Fla. – A Florida school district and the local sheriff’s office agreed Tuesday that resource officers will no longer have access to student data, including the school system’s early warning system that designates students as “at risk.”

The revised agreement between the Pasco County’ Sheriff's Office and the county's school board came amid a U.S. Department of Education investigation into whether sharing such information violated federal law.

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A sheriff’s analyst who serves on the school system’s threat-assessment team will still be able to review student data, the Tampa Bay Times reported. And the agency will still be able to access that information in cases of public safety emergencies, including child abductions.

Under the revised agreement, the sheriff's office will create a record of any data they access and why it was necessary. The information will be sent to the school district, sheriff's spokeswoman Amanda Hunter told the newspaper.

The agency had used the school district data to create a secret list of children who could “fall into a life of crime,” the newspaper reported in 2020.

There were 420 students on the list last year, the Times reported. And students could be on the list due to factors like getting a D or F, or from experiencing childhood trauma such as child abuse, officials said.

“We are voluntarily making this update to our agreement with the Pasco County School Board to ease any anxiety that parents may have as a result of misinformation perpetuated by media reports,” Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a prepared statement. “To be clear, over the 20 years that our SROs have had access to this information, we have never relied on grades, attendance or school discipline to deem any child at-risk for being a future criminal, nor do we use predictive policing, and this update to policy just further clarifies and reflects that reality.”

The sheriff's department is already facing a federal lawsuit that the intelligence-based policing program violates people’s rights by improperly targeting and harassing them. Nocco rejected the claims in the lawsuit filed in Tampa in March.

School Superintendent Kurt Browning said he sought to amend the agreement because the issue had become a “distraction” to the school district’s efforts to serve children.

”We just determined that we can still provide the same level of service,” he said. “People did not understand that we were not doing anything nefarious with data.”

Browning said that the stories reported by news media “stirred a lot of people up over things we weren’t doing.”

Earlier Tuesday, the People Against the Surveillance of Children and Overpolicing sent a 12-page letter to the district demanding an end to the data-sharing relationship.